Friday, January 26, 2007

Zoomerang – a Web-based survey tool

Whether for assessing needs, expanding product and service development, or improving quality through feedback, there are many reasons to conduct a survey. Asking input from your clients or customers is almost always a good thing. For the past five years, I have used a Web application to create, launch, and analyze survey data. My tool of choice is Zoomerang.

Although you can just jump in and use one of the Zoomerang templates, you should think about your survey's purpose and how to structure questions. In Zoomerang, questions can take several forms, such as: Yes/No, multiple choice, matrixes, or open-ended. You can also have a comment box on each question. Zoomerang allows you to select from basic themes (they mostly differ in color). You then preview the survey to see how it looks and operates. When the editing is complete, activate and launch the survey. A Web URL is created that can be placed on a Website or embedded in an E-mail directed at targeted survey participants. You can create a contact list in Zoomerang. They sell an E-mail list service, but I don’t use it. I often create a list in Word and paste it into Zoomerang.

See an example of a Web-link survey launch HERE

The best feature of Zoomerang is the reporting. You can view results, real-time; and share the results as well. I often use it as a tool for tabulating evaluations. In most cases, we ask the questions using paper evaluations for our CME conferences. Then, the data is entered into Zoomerang, which then creates a nice Web-accessible report. It is also possible to import data from Zoomerang into Excel for further manipulation.

You can create a free online survey of up to 30 questions. Of course, the free version does not offer all the features of the paid service. Also, your results will only be available for 10 days. If you are interested in using the UTCOM/Erlanger account for conducting a survey, contact Larry Miller (423-778-3821 or

You may also consider other Web-based survey tools, such as StellarSurvey or SurveyMonkey


Friday, January 19, 2007

Phone calls from your PC with Skype

Voice Over IP (VOIP) is a way to transmit voice communications, like phone conversations, over the Internet. Skype is a Web 2.0 application that uses IP (Internet Protocol) addresses instead of phone numbers and is often used with a headset connected to a PC. There are several providers that have emerged (Vonage is spending a fortune on TV ads), but I have found Skype to be pretty easy to use and full of features.

First, you can make free calls to anyone else on Skype, no matter where they are. I think the calls of excellent quality. Like many Web applications, there is a free level and a subscriber level. For 30 bucks, you can subscribe to Skype and get one year of unlimited calls to any regular phone in the US and Canada, in addition to the Skype to Skype calls.

There are other features that make Skype more than just another telephone system. If you and your friends, family or business contacts are using webcams, you can also make free video calls. Personally, I am not a big fan of Web cams, but they have a place. More significant to me is the Group chat feature. This is basically instant messaging with up to 100 people in a group chat. With Skype’s bookmark function, you can find the dialogue later to sustain a persistent chat.

Another feature I have not tried is Skypecast. This creates a large online conference call with up to100 people. Skypecasts are scheduled to begin and end at a certain time and usually have a certain topic of discussion.

I don’t see Skype as a telephone replacement service and it cannot be used for emergency dialing. There are other Web-based VoIP systems (Gizmo, Google Talk, and Yahoo! Voice among others), but I am enjoying what I get with Skype.

My Skype account is lorenzostork

Friday, January 12, 2007

Find peer reviewed online teaching and learning materials with MERLOT

MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching,) is an organization devoted to improving the current and future academic technology needs of faculty, students, staff, and institutions through a collaborative framework. As a MERLOT member, you can: create your own personal collection of learning resources from a repository of over 15,000 materials. With more than 40,000 members, this is truly a community of peers with a passion for online learning. Through MERLOT, you may share advice and expertise about education with colleagues; contribute your own learning materials, comments on learning resource you've used add an assignment to a learning material.

I have found a great deal of useful educational material through MERLOT. In MERLOT, you can search for a specific topic or visit a Discipline Community. These communities include: Biology, Business, Chemistry, Criminal Justice, Engineering, Health Sciences, History, Information Technology, Mathematics, Music, Physics, Psychology, Statistics, Teacher Education, Teaching and Technology, and World Languages. The amount of material specific to medical education has grown significantly over the four years I have used it. There is even a nice unit on Teaching Health Sciences with Technology was developed by the Health Sciences Editorial Board to assist instructors using MERLOT materials.

What really makes MERLOT effective is that the material is peer reviewed by editorial boards of content experts. This really keeps out the junk. Check out the unit called Neuroscience for Kids – very nice. A nice feature is that you can develop a Personal Collections of learning material. Searching and organization is pretty simple.

Have a taste of the MERLOT Health Science Portal at:

Thursday, January 4, 2007

To Wiki or Not to Wiki? I Wiki!


Many of you may have heard of or used Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. At this posting, Wikipedia encompasses 1,565,565 articles in English. Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has rapidly grown into the largest reference Web site on the Internet. The content of Wikipedia is free, and is written collaboratively by people from all around the world. It is the central focus of the Wikimedia Community that includes over 700 distinct Wikis in hundreds of languages.

A Wiki is a collaborative effort with articles written by individuals from around the world using wiki software that allows content to be added or changed by anyone. As a result, Wikipedia is a dynamic work that is always growing, always changing. This approach, however, is not without its problems. I personally know some educators, including librarians, who will not use or recommend Wikipedia.

However, conducted an evaluation of the validity of Wikipedia by three professional librarians. Their conclusion was:

While there are still reasons to proceed with caution when using a resource that takes pride in limited professional management, many encouraging signs suggest that (at least for now) Wikipedia may be granted the librarian’s seal of approval.

Personally, I love Wikipedia and use it daily. It is the best way to find information quickly. I would not cite Wikipedia for academic publication, but I find that the quick overview is usually what I need. Articles that have some depth to them generally have citation of sources and also links to other sources on the topic.

To utilize Wikipedia, use the search box on the left side of their home page. For example, typing in “Chattanooga” will give you a pretty detailed look at our city. The contents for this article include sections on: History; Economy; Politics, government, and law; Education; Health care; Culture and Tourism; Demographics; Geography; Transportation; Media and communications; Notable residents; Sister cities; Other communities named Chattanooga; and External links.

I have contributed to Wikipedia, including developing new articles and providing minor edits and additions to extant articles. In addition, I have recently added a couple of dozen photos to articles. You can see one of my photos by searching for “Grand Traverse Lighthouse.”